Writing and Photography by Bobby Talamine
Edited by Fiza Javid
Thalia Hall Chicago
The Sanctum Dark Music Festival is in town over the long Thanksgiving Weekend, with two days at Thalia Hall, and the last day at the Empty Bottle in Chicago.
Because of prior commitments, could only hook up for one of the three days, which was Day Two, with headliner Boy Harsher, along with RIKI, Pixel Grip, Sacred Skin and opener Club Music.
This day hits hard folks, and as Jae Matthews of Boy Harsher so eloquently put it at the beginning of their set- "This is a night of dance. A night to dance the night away. I better see everybody dance".
Of course she says this with a wicked grin across her face- but just like that- she got her wish.
Some twelve songs or so total for their set, and everyone was dancing.
Main floor, balcony, balcony side boxes- didn't matter.
Everybody was dancing.
Was amazing to see this from various vantage points- from the pit, to the back of the main floor, or even from the front rail balcony- everyone was having a blast and dancing.
From opener "Keep Driving", which builds on a slow and wicked pulsating groove, through "Give Me a Reason", and then into "Morphine"..everything about their set was elements of a slow and seductive burn and build, with lots of tension, and then more tension with the beats. all the while some modicum of restraint.
It's a cool and wicked trance, Boy Harsher songs, knowing full well immersed in the beats and the heavy whisper vocals from Jae, and her partner Gus in all things electronic, that when immersed in a few songs in their set, you have a sense that the tightened rubber brand can break, and they could easily unleash the hounds.
If they wished to go dark and heavy, they obviously and easily could, punctuated by screams and yowls and breakbeat synths followed by pummeling drums.
You just can sense it over an over again.
And the order of the day with Boy Harsher is restraint.
Followed by a slow and heavy and seductive build.
And they stay on track with this, even with an awesome cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", made heavier and with forlorn, courtesy of the seductive sometimes spoken word vocal of Jae Matthews.
Not an easy song to pull off this way, knowing Isaak's take on his song is utter heartbreak, with that falsetto of his.
To turn the coin over on its side, and present Wicked Game this way just adds to the luster of wanting, followed by lusting, like a black panther in the jungle at midnight, and all you see is her eyes- not the beast.
And so it is with Boy Harsher, a duo built on dark and seductive beats, built for the nightclubs after midnight, and proven time and time again with heavy touring followed by instinctive record releases.
There's more to them that obviously, but still, the theatrics of it all.
This is their second foray into Chicago this year, having done a residency at the Bottle I believe earlier in the year- and still, some months later, they don't grow old and weary.
They're ready to dance, and their ready with seductive beats upon beats to push you to dance.
It just goes to show with all of their influences and profound ideas and visual concepts which apparently they have in abundance, Jae and Gus have their hearts in the right place, and soon everyone will follow along for the ride for support.
I for one, am along for the ride- whenever, wherever.
Same goes for Chicago's Pixel Grip.
A forty five minute ish set, also punctuated with sexy pulsating beats and catchy dark pop hooks.
That they allow for a live drummer in Tyler Ommen just amps up everything in my opinion, and not held in restraint with drum machines.
Again, another band with that kind of feel that unleash the hounds at a moments notice if they wanted to, and yet, seductive restraint is the order of the day.
They put out on a wicked show folks, with Rita Lukea on vocals and samples front and center, and with a wicked fashion sense of sexy appeal, but albeit with a sinister undertone of "You better not F with Me".
I could be wrong, but so what.
Her presence is felt center stage, and you can't keep your eyes off her when she sings and performs.
It says as much when you have Jonathon Freund on synths and beats buried towards the back of the stage, along with drummer Tyler Ommen- all the more room for Rita to command the stage, and lay out what's going to go down.
Rita, and their set- it's about pure and unabashed energy, followed by righteous calls for togetherness and empowerment.
Look no further than her call out to the unfortunate tragedy that unfolded in Colorado Springs, at the nightclub Club Q, and the shootings there within the LGBTQ community.
With Rita stopping their set between songs, and lay out to the crowd that this whole mess is beyond a moment of silence, and all the bullshit that follows with a moment of silence- followed by powerlessness.
Her views and take on things is just the opposite- you yell, you scream, you feel your rights of indignation and let it all out.
I love this about her, a warrior with a huge heart, all of it which I've witnessed firsthand with her and the band quite a few times now as being so inspirational.
To the point where at the close of their set, she has to mix it up on the main floor with the crowd, and get in some celebratory dancing.
Rita and Pixel Grip- their set was so cathartic- and everyone was in on the dance.
I mean EVERYONE.
As for RIKI, and her undeniable reimagining of all things dark and moody synths- her set also works on many levels.
The mix was perfect, between vocal and beats, not one or the other buried or below to navigate through an entire set.
Not as easy as it sounds if not given the proper time to measure accordingly during soundcheck- which sometimes can make for an unfortunate mishap and can easily derail things.
All the more beneficial when it works proper, allowing the performance element to take root, and you can unleash your cast of characters.
RIKI has a way of succeeding with this in spades, down to the sexy cow boots and short leather jacket and short pant body suit.
She's another performer who knows how to command and hold court to the delight of the crowd.
As for Sacred Skin, which is Brian DaMert on guitar and lead vocals, along with co founder Brian Tarney on guitars and synths- their set was spotless in all things anthemic eighties synth pop, held all the more darker with an added synths and bass player and drummer.
It's a full on band, and tight as all get out, which was ever so evident in their use of make or break in a 45 minute ish set.
They swung for the fences folks, and in my opinion, broke through with a powerful set of songs that command your attention.
Brian's lead vocals- the dark undertones of it all- I hear lots of Wayne Hussey from the Mission UK, with a deep baritone that can rave up to a falsetto in a moments notice.
The band- their songs- way beyond the likeliness of eighties synthpop and whoever else comes to mind. With that kind of drums, and that kind of fire power in songwriting chops, have to say they can punch through labels and make things their own- they're that solid in musicianship and songwriting.
Opener Club Music had a cool set as well, similar to RIKI, albeit with a bit more restraint.
But still, within gate confines of a forty minute set, she held her own in tribal beats and restrained synths and vocals.
Have to say the entire schedule of Sanctum Day Two has a solid lineup of performers, with an enthusiastic crowd over the Thanksgiving day weekend.
As for the DJ's between sets, and the DJ's below in the Punch House of Thalia Hall- the whole idea of disappearing and catching a breath while still listening to sophisticated playlists throughout was a delight as well.
Bobby Talamine - JBTV Music Television Chicago
Boy Harsher, Pixel Grip, RIKI, Sacred Skin, JBTV Music Television, Bobby Talamine, Fiza Javid, Chicago, Live Music